Category Archives: Afghanistan

Pakistan’s Greatest Peril

The news from Pakistan’a Gilgit-Balistan province is grim:

  • 30% of normal snowfall
  • November to March snow was observed before 1994
  • Snows came only January & February 2014
  • March melt is four to six weeks early
  • Water is already gone by May planting time

This province is in the far north of Pakistan, part of the small area that gets snow.

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

The country is subject to monsoon rains between June and September, but centered on six weeks in July and August. The cooler, higher altitude areas get the bulk of the precipitation.

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

But on just one night in 2010 this happened, leaving 20% of Pakistan under water.

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Various stories can be found indicating the per capita water availability in Pakistan is 20% of what it was when they achieved independence in 1947. These stories neglect to mention population – which has more than quintupled in that time.

Pakistan Population

Pakistan Population

Pakistan’s elected government has been taken over by the army three times starting in 1958 and these takeovers last an average of eleven years. The recent assassination of Hamid Mir, a GeoTV journalist, and the TV network’s immediate blaming of Inter-Services Intelligence are seen as signs that 2014 may see another coup.

A military government can quash dissent and push through unpopular but necessary adaptive infrastructure, like a dam that will flood part of one valley for the sake of stabilizing a region. The problem is that Pakistan already has a couple of domestic insurgencies and countering violence today will take precedence over civil engineering projects that will not contribute immediately to stability.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and couple of the former Soviet stans, along with Iran itself are part of a geographic region the Persian empire called Parthia, but which we now call Greater Iran. Click through that link and you’ll find a similar story about Iran, which stands to have 45 million of their population of 75 million become climate refugees(!)

Greater Iran

Greater Iran

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

The Soviet Union blundered into a war of attrition with Afghan tribes in 1979 and this was a big factor in their collapse in 1991. Just eleven years after Afghanistan’s most recent imperial kill, the United States, as sure of democracy as the Russians were of communism, marched right into the same trap. The United States has not collapsed outright just yet, but the economic malaise at home and our shaky grasp on foreign affairs are clear signs of what is to come.

This entire region is over carrying capacity. This should be both the first and last thought when considering any long term plans. India, Russia, and Turkey will bear the brunt of this and they are the ones who are in a position to do something. The days of unilateral U.S. action are over. If you want to make predictions for the region look at precipitation and the price of staple foods such as wheat, because they matter in ways that ideology and rhetoric can never match.

Afghanistan’s New Best Friends

The April 30th NightWatch contained some very interesting information about what will happen in Afghanistan once NATO withdrawal is complete.

India-Russia-Afghanistan: India, Russia and Afghanistan quietly have created a triangular arrangement for providing arms aid to Afghanistan after NATO withdraws. None of the countries have made an official announcement. Only a small number of news services, including The Moscow Times and Pakistani newspapers, have published articles about it.

The arrangement was finalized in February when an India team visited Moscow, but it had been under discussion during the past year. It was one of the discussion items when President Karzai visited India last December.

Under the agreement, smaller arms such as light artillery and mortars will be provided by Russia and moved to Afghanistan from the north, while India paid Russia for the equipment. An inventory of Russian-made equipment in Afghanistan has been completed. Afghanistan has presented India with a list of requirements and Russia reportedly has made one or more initial shipments.

An Indian Ministry of External Affairs officer said, “We can’t commit troops on the ground; we can’t give them the military equipment that they have been asking us for, for all sorts of reasons including the lack of surplus stocks….Involving a third party is the next best option.”

Afghanistan India Russia

Afghanistan India Russia

This is a very touchy matter for Pakistan, their strategic opponent India providing weapons to a country on the opposite side, creating the potential for a two front war. KGS NightWatch reports this is actually pleasing to the other countries in the region, as it keeps Afghanistan from sliding into the Pakistani sphere, and then into play with their internal conflicts.

Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979 and this hopeless, endless conflict is named as one of the key components that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union twelve years later. When Romanian NATO troops showed up with Russian looking uniforms and AK-47s it caused consternation among the locals, who feared the Russians had returned. Russian weapons have never left – AK-47s, 12.7x108mm machine guns, and RPG7 rocket launchers are still the right small weapons for this geographic area.

Calculus in the region is complicated by the urge for independence in Balochistan, which would affect Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.

Balochistan

Balochistan

China has been investing heavily in the region, from the port of Gwadar on the Balochi Pakistan coast to internal rail improvements. Russia has been less active in terms of foreign investment but they have already made their weight felt with regards to Syria and are now participants in a regional stability scheme for Central Asia.

Neo-Conservatives will have a case of the vapors over this, but the blame for reduced U.S. influence on the region falls squarely on their shoulders for their role in engineering Bush’s disastrous adventure in Iraq. Afghanistan has always been an unruly empire killer and I am in favor of anything which can keep trouble there from radiating into Pakistan.

Afghanistan: Coalition Casualties, Opium Poppies & Drone Strikes

Here’s a map of Afghanistan’s opium poppy production by province:

Afghanistan Opium Prodution

Afghanistan Opium Prodution

Here’s a map of coalition casualties in Afghanistan, with a highlight of Waziristan, where drone strikes are most prevalent.

Afghanistan Casualties

Afghanistan Casualties

Funding The Syrian Insurgency was written almost five months ago and it references a 2006 paper by economist Paul Coller, Economic Causes of Civil Conflict and their Implications for Policy. Summarizing to a single sentence, insurgencies market themselves to claim moral high ground, but they always have an illicit network exploiting local opportunity, and they often devolve into regional mafias (think: Colombia’s FARC) once their political objectives are met.

National Defense University’s Convergence is a collected series of papers on the nature of illicit networks that support insurgencies. Afghanistan has a variety of such entities, from the Haqqani Network, which may or may not be cozy with Pakistan’s ISI, to Iranians on the opposite side of the country, more focused on revenue than any political objective.

Kandahar and Helmand are the gold mine, they are where coalition troops were most at risk. The area being droned is Waziristan, home to the political leadership of the bi-national Haqqani network. Afghan Logistics Just Got Much Harder describes the added distance and costs we face in our withdrawal due to the slaughter of 24 Pakistani troops in 2011. We are simply not wanted in Afghanistan, and the residents have the temperament to make that decision, and then make it stick.

This will never work politically, but if we intended to reduce the hazard Afghanistan poses the right thing to do would have been a short, sharp action against radicalized Arabs in the country, then spending our dollars facilitating legal use of the country’s opium crop. Global Access to Pain Relief Initiative is just one many efforts that could use opium derivatives, relieving the suffering of both Afghans and cancer victims worldwide.

Greater Iran’s Greatest Problem

The current political boundaries of the Islamic Republic are a fraction of what the Persian empire was at it’s peak. This map of Scythia & Parthia shows what have been fairly stable boundaries for Iranian culture – from the Tigris river in the west to the Indus in the east.

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Geographically this area is known as the Persian or Iranian Plateau

Persian Plateau

Persian Plateau

The current nations within Greater Iran’s territory include Georgia, Armenia, Azerbijan, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, and portions of Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Uighur portion of China.

Greater Iran

Greater Iran

This area is not a contiguous plateau, but it’s all elevated, often rugged, and it lays between Anatolia to the west and the Hindu Kush to the east. I have previously written about Anatolia’s water problems in Losing The Euphrates.

This article, Iran Becoming Uninhabitable, contained this stark quote from a former agriculture minister.

Kalantari said that the “deserts in Iran are spreading, and I am warning you that South Alborz and East Zagros will be uninhabitable and people will have to migrate. But where? Easily I can say that of the 75 million people in Iran, 45 million will have uncertain circumstances.” Kalantari continued, “If we start this very day to address this, it will take 12 to 15 years to balance.”

Somalia, Afghanistan, and Mali each dried past the point of sustaining their populations, descended into chaos, and became havens for illicit networks and terrorist groups.

Iran has two and a half times the population of Afghanistan, it has direct access to the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea. Opium production in Afghanistan was curtailed by the Taliban, but since the U.S. led invasion ten years ago production has rebounded. The U.S. is leaving and if Iran collapses due to a mix of climate change and ill advised sanctions, western Europe’s heroin habit will fuel insurgency across the region, and sea access will facilitate that trade.

Afghanistan can convert fertilizer to explosives but they are otherwise almost entirely dependent for any military goods. Iran has its own internal industries making everything from bullets to ballistic missiles. Supply chain issues will hit systems that are large of complex in nature, but the AK-47s and RPGs will continue to flow, and these are the foundation weapons of any insurgency.

The U.S. presence in Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan. Our presence in Iraq affected the whole region. Syria’s civil war has spread into Lebanon, Iraq, and it threatens Turkey. Libya’s revolution put a flood of weapons on the market. Egypt’s revolution replaced a stable strongman government with dueling factions, none of which can get along in a pluralist environment.

If the U.S. does not take the lead and back off Iranian sanctions, a sometimes belligerent rational actor will be replace by an ugly amalgam of all the things we have seen from the other interventions and revolutions I named. That outcome may be inevitable due to climate change, but rushing to it is a foreign policy mistake of a similar magnitude to what happened in the Balkans in 1914 or Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Afghan Logistics Just Got Much Harder

BISHKEK — Kyrgyzstan on Thursday gave the United States until July next year to shut its air force base at Manas, a staging post for U.S. troops and supplies in the Afghanistan conflict but now deemed unnecessary as foreign forces pull out.

The move is likely to please Russia as it vies with the West and China for influence in the resource-rich region. (The Moscow Times)

Manas To Kabul: 1,722km

Although just over 1,700km from Kabul the Transit Center at Manas is a key logistics location for NATO efforts. Afghanistan Logistics became complicated in 2011 when overland routes through Pakistan were closed due to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Afghanistan Supply Routes

Afghanistan Supply Routes

We had 35,000 vehicles in Afghanistan and were bringing out about 1,500 a month by air when I wrote that six weeks ago. Thirteen months till Manas closes, or 16,500 vehicles at the current rate. It isn’t the only air base, but the costs just ballooned for bringing home our MRAP fleet. I have heard from a friend who was a Navy NCO during Desert Storm that he expects large numbers of war weary MRAPs will be stripped of parts and abandoned in unusable condition.

We are on our way out, Kyrgyzstan is making it harder to get free and dramatically more difficult if we got the urge to return, and a Taliban Office Opens In Qatar. This lead to Afghan president Karzai backing out of talks, and then getting coaxed back by U.S. diplomats.

The Afghan government has signaled it might join talks with the Taliban a day after President Hamid Karzai said he would boycott any peace talks unless they were led by his government, a spokesman told AP news agency.

NATO in general and the U.S. specifically are being systematically blocked from having any influence in the region by Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan. If the global economy takes a tumble, and the ongoing European banking crisis could trigger such trouble, this ongoing pullout could turn into a full on “bugout”. Some of us are old enough to recall the last time such a thing happened, thirty eight years ago.

The Fall Of Saigon

The Fall Of Saigon

Taliban Office Opens In Qatar

Taliban Qatar

Taliban Office Opening In Qatar

The Taliban signaled a breakthrough in efforts to start Afghan peace negotiations on Tuesday, announcing the opening of a political office in Qatar and a new readiness to talk with American and Afghan officials, who said in turn that they would travel to meet insurgent negotiators there within days.

2,243 flag draped caskets came through Dover, another 1,097 troops had similar homecomings in NATO countries, and the Taliban just opened an office in Qatar.

Afghanistan Casualties

Afghanistan Casualties

We are leaving, we have a horrible logistics problem in the form of 35,000 heavy vehicles and no cooperation from Pakistan in their removal. When the Soviet Union was run out of the country they said they were leaving. Instead of an exit window the Taliban turned up the heat, making sure that the lesson they had taught not forgotten.

Yesterday I wrote Post-Assad Syria: Turkey’s Perspective. Executive summary of the Bipartisan Policy Center‘s strategic paper? Even the lesser evils are still pretty evil. Syria & Lebanon’s Patchwork provides maps of the ethnic and sectarian divides there and Monitoring The Golan Heights describes just one event where Syria’s civil war had effects outside its borders.

We had to do something after the 9/11 attack. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, we had offers from both Iran and Pakistan for dealing with the Taliban harboring al Queda. The neo-con fascination with “cleaning up” old Soviet client states coupled with a desire to control the last remaining onshore supergiant oil field got us into Iraq. Now Syria, the last Soviet client standing, shows every sign of imploding into a bigger, badder, bloodier version of what Lebanon was in the 1980s, and it shares a border with NATO member Turkey.

Anyone else starting to get a really bad feeling about this?

Islam’s Doctrinal Divide

Americans were largely ignorant of the Muslim faith prior to 9/11, but in the years since we have at least learned that there are two major branches and that not all Muslims are Arab. I came across this graphic of global Muslim sects in other reading a few days ago and saved it for an opportune moment, not realizing how quickly I would need it.

Global Muslim Sects

Global Muslim Sects

The geographic display of the divide between Sunni and Shia is a fair match for the count of adherents – about 85% of all Muslims are Sunni. There are several conflicts where the sectarian differences are important. These include:

  • Alawite Syrians on the coast, terrified of the coming Sunni majority government
  • Majority Shia Bahrain chafing under a Sunni monarchy
  • Yemeni Shia fighting to restore the North/South Yemen divide

One bright spot has been NATO relations with the ethnic Hazara minority in Afghanistan. They are clearly visible in the global sects map as a yellow Jafari Shia donut hole in the middle of what is otherwise Hanafi Sunni territory.

Afghanistan Ethnic Groups

Afghanistan Ethnic Groups

The Afghanistan casualty map provides stark proof of what that means. NATO casualties in Hazara territory average just one soldier per year.

Afghanistan Casualties

Afghanistan Casualties

Here, courtesy of the 14 June 2013 NightWatch, is a prime example of the coupling of affairs in the Mideast with those in Central Asia. The United States has belatedly agreed to arm Sunni Syria opposition to the Alawite dominated Assad regime.

Syrian rebels called the US decision to provide them with arms a “late step.” The so-called moderate Free Syrian Army said the expected delivery of small arms and ammunition would be largely meaningless. The rebels instead called for assistance to include shipments of heavy weaponry, training and a no-fly zone.

And this move draws the eye of the Hazara, creating confusion and dismay.

Already the US announcement has started to generate confusion and resentment among the Hazara clans in Afghanistan, according to NightWatch Feedback from Afghanistan. Most Hazaras live in central Afghanistan, west of Kabul and most are Shiites. They strongly resisted the intolerance and brutality of the Taliban and have been strong supporters of the US and NATO intervention forces. Improvements in their safety and living conditions are among the few clear success stories in Afghanistan.

Here are some other reports that provide background on the current situation in Afghanistan.

Three months ago the Karzai government ordered U.S. SOCOM out of two provinces south of Kabul.

We face great logistics difficulties in our drawdown of forces in Afghanistan due to poor relations with Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s air force is receiving a squadron of twenty Embraer Super Tucano attack planes.

Summing this up, we face serious logistics problems in exiting Afghanistan and a foreign policy decision in Syria could complicate matters. The distance from the Russian naval supply station on the coast of Syria to the Afghan capitol of Kabul is 2,400 miles – the same distance as a trip from Brooklyn to Phoenix.

I have not seen but will be on the lookout for similar news from Bahrain, where the 70% of the Muslim population are Shia, but the monarchy is Sunni. The country is home to the U.S. 5th Fleet and it still simmers with Arab Spring protests two years later.

A small, belated, largely symbolic change in U.S. strategy with regards to Syria produces fallout 2,400 miles away. We can not begin to predict the unwanted complexity that would result from a strike against Iran, the heart of the Shia world.

Tartus, Syria to Kabul, Afghanistan

Tartus, Syria to Kabul, Afghanistan